Wide range of works at BNG Biennial
Space constraints left me unable to do a complete review of the Bermuda National Gallery’s 2022 Bermuda Biennial this summer.
In this sequel, I intend to finish the task although, as with my first critique I am only focusing on the visual arts, despite the poetry section that was introduced this year.
The title of Judith Aidoo-Saltus’s photograph is Vocable #2: The Veneration of Mami Wata (aka Mother Water), whose Ecstatic Beauty and Celestial Power is Made Most Manifest as She Bestrides both Atlantic and Time. That is a longish title that needs to be unwrapped.
The photograph depicts a female figure floating in aqua-coloured water, but with this difference; the figure has been inverted from a horizontal position into a vertical. She appears to be ascending.
Mami Wata is a water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa and also in the African diaspora in the Americas. This spirit is usually female.
Mami Wata is concerned with aspects of African spirituality. But given the history of Africans in the Americas, Mami Wata transcends the Atlantic, uniting Africa with the Americas.
The Birdcage installation located in the grounds of City Hall, is a surprising change from what we have come to expect from Jacqueline Alma. She says of this work that she would like people to come and use it to express their understanding of the Biennial theme, “A New Vocabulary: Past, Present, Future”. We are invited to become co-creators along with the artist by our participation.
Meredith Andrews’s series of eight photographs portrays and pays respect to 108-year-old Myrtle Edness. The artist says that “these images aim to capture the beauty and wisdom of a Bermudian whose long life has shown her many things”. Photography, by its very nature lends itself to such as this series whereby we experience a sense of liveliness and movement. This series is almost cinematic.
Depictions of workplace situations are not all that common in the history of painting, that is until the early modern period. Louisa Bermingham’s painting shows a dockland scene, including a ship, apparently being unloaded, but it also appears devoid of workers. She writes that she wishes to emphasise the present that escapes us every day. But where are the labourers? Did they escape as well?
The Brackish Pond Literary Collective’s contribution to this year’s Bermuda Biennial is by writers Yesha Townsend and Kristin White, who titled their production, Cartographies of Loss.
In their creative statement, they have described this sense of loss in a poem, a film and supposedly an interactive art installation. Their focus is on “forgotten sites of memory across the island”.
However, as I see it, there is a problem. Where is the interactive art installation? Presumably it’s some kind of document or, as the title suggests, a map indicating the location of forgotten histories throughout the island. But I am left hanging. Where and what are these forgotten histories? Where is the installation? I was not able to find it.
Having said all the above, the concept has great appeal, especially for history buffs and conceivably for others as well But without this interactive installation the concept is stuck.
The Brackish Pond aspect of their name was taken from the opening sentence in The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave: “I was born at Brackish Pond.” For those not in the know, Brackish Pond was once the name used in Bermudian vernacular for Devonshire parish.
Cheryl Hastings’s painting depicts what appears to be a banana tree-cum-gombey. She, like many others, used her time during the Covid lockdown to get creative.
I have had the unique opportunity of witnessing the artistic development of Jonah Jones. At the time he began his art studies at Bermuda College, I was employed as an art instructor there. Although always gifted, his recent work has taken off to astounding heights.
In their joint statement the jurors referred to his painting, Transition Zone #5, as an abstract but also as “a meditation on how colour and light are transmitted and reflected through and on water and land”.
This is of interest, the fact that the two jurors referred to Jones’s painting as abstract. I, long ago realised that all realism in art is to some degree abstract and all abstractions are, to varying degrees, referential to the visible world. Transition Zone #5 is an apt illustration of this fact.
Liana Nanang is a multidisciplinary story teller who uses art (both visual as well as literary) to investigate aspects of identity. Like her, there are several others in this show who have used art to investigate personal identities.
Her watercolour painting depicts her partner with his teenage son. Certainly family is a significant aspect of one’s identity.
Tiffany AJ Paynter is a spoken word poet, so why is her poem not in the poetry section of this Biennial? Considering the history of art, however, there has been efforts from time to time, to integrate the arts – take opera as an example. So, is her poem Neti Neti an integration of poem with performance art?
Many will know the legend of the long-lived phoenix, that mythical bird from ancient Egypt and classical antiquity that, as its end approached, fashioned a nest, set it on fire and thus was consumed. From the flames, however, sprang miraculously a new phoenix.
Corrina Rego has created an assemblage of recycled driftwood, plastic bits, a block of aged Bermuda stone and so on, entitled Phoenix. This re-creation did not miraculously come together, nevertheless it is a renewal of discarded bits and pieces into something new.
Seth de Roulet is a well-known surf photographer who, because of Bermuda’s unique beauty, has chosen to reside here. This year he is a participant in the Bermuda Biennial. His two submissions are Time Warp and Cascade. Given the continuous motion of the sea in waves, freezing the motion photographically is one possibility but he depicts instead the crashing turbulent motion of breaking waves.
Kristy Warren and Ami Zanders have created an experimental video based on the life and death of Sally Bassett, who was executed by means of burning at the stake. Appropriately enough, it is titled Embers.
In producing this video they drew on the research of Karla Ingemann, Clarence Maxwell and Quito Swann. The video utilises poetry, animation and digital visual effects. While this video is an impressive effort, I had difficulty keeping up with the narrative due to interference from flowers (Bermudiana) and flicker, that made reading the written dialogue difficult. Other than that, it’s a beautiful creation.
Jahbarri A. Wilson’s painting depicts a spiritual experience where, as written in the artist statement, the individual having the experience is in a state of surrender as well as confidence while facing the possibility of death at any time. The title is Faef, which is “Bermudian” for faith. Wilson, in making his painting, utilises different media including acrylic, oil paint, oil pastel and crayons.
If you have not yet seen the Bermuda Biennial, there is still time enough to do so. It’s a highly recommended show. It continues through the end of the year at the Bermuda National Gallery.